Six years ago Classic Cinemas took over the management of the movie theaters at the North Riverside Park Mall. Now, the operator wants to make the mall’s theaters a destination.
In September, Classic Cinemas will embark on a two-week effort to update and change out the seats in all six auditoriums. The floors will be carpeted and the seats – which are original to the theaters and date to 1991 — will be replaced with what the company’s vice president, Chris Johnson, calls “giant power luxury recliners.”
“We call it affordable luxury,” said Johnson. “It’s getting VIP treatment without the VIP price. We think the audiences there will embrace it.”
According to Johnson, the plan is for three of the mall theaters to be renovated between Sept. 22 and 26, with the other three getting their makeovers from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1. The theaters have already had their projection and sound systems upgraded to state-of-the-art technology, said Johnson.
“The hardest part about this is that the chairs are big and the theaters are on the second floor,” said Johnson. “We have seven truckloads coming.”
The chairs being installed are called Bliss Loungers, which feature armrests with cup holders and a motor, allowing theater-goers to adjust their seats however they want. The chairs run about $700 apiece, said Johnson.
Ticket buyers will also now have the option of reserving individual seats either online or at the ticket window. Ticket prices will remain the same, said Johnson, including the $5 Tuesday special.
With 658 seats total, Classic Cinemas is investing nearly a $500,000 on seating alone. The other improvements to the theaters will run the theater chain another $30,000, according to the building permit application on file with the North Riverside Building Department.
No other complex in the 13-theater Classic Cinemas chain, save for a small auditorium in Woodstock, is outfitted with the recliners.
“This is our test theater,” said Johnson. “We think we’re taking it to the next level. It will just be amazing.”
The only risky part of the upgrade, said Johnson, will be the loss of more than 1,000 seats to the overall capacity of all six theaters. The present auditoriums hold roughly 1,700 people.
“The only downside is losing so many seats,” said Johnson.
Even with the loss of seats, Johnson said the goal is to “amp up attendance” in North Riverside, which has suffered from a reputation gained prior to Classic Cinemas’ tenure as the theater operator.
Around 2008-09, North Riverside Park Mall began instituting changes in both leasing and rules for patrons that have resulted in more attractive retailers. Signing Classic Cinemas as the mall’s theater operator — the previous one was evicted — was part of that effort.
“A lot of theaters attached to malls can present problems, but Classic Cinemas is a really good operator,” said Harvey Ahitow, general manager of North Riverside Park Mall. “The fit has been good.”
Johnson agreed that his company’s run in North Riverside has been a positive one.
“Since taking over North Riverside we’ve had a lot of nice success, a nice turnaround,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had any issue in a long, long time.”